I just finished a book named ‘Wanting’, written by a guy named Luke Burgis.
It’s about mimetic desire. This academic theory popularized by Peter Thiel, the same guy who was co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in FaceBook.
What is mimetic desire ?
At face value, it barely sounds worth mentioning ! It means ” When the people around you want something, we want it too”
Let’s say you’re at a bar.
You’re about to order a beer but your friend orders a glass of wine. “I’ll have one too actually” – you wanted a beer, but you were influenced to switch.
Ok, so what? But now lets take it to the next level…
If you study in IIT, and lot of your friends are starting some new digital startups. You also would get motivated to have some of your own start-up. For you ,certain things would become important. For example, raising money, valuation, who your investors are, number of employees. These are the metrics by which your peer group collectively has defined success.
But let’s say lot of friends started investing in stock-market ! Whenever you meet , they discuss about stocks and the kind of money they’re making. Now you suddenly get interested and you also want to invest in stock-market.
Every peer group collectively wants and competes for the same things, it just depends on what bubble you’re in.
Hang out with writers and you’ll want to get a book published.
Hang out with few book-worms and you want to read as many books as possible.
Hang out with athletes and you’ll want to run for marathons. And so on, and so on.
Of course, none of these desires relate in any way to your personal happiness or true desires.
You don’t know realize it, but you want these things because other people want them.
You might see this pattern in any group of friends.
One person will buy an Audi and it’s like a virus.
A latest model becomes the calling card of success.
Gradually, everyone in the group slowly switches over to an Audi or a BMW or a Merc.
Sometimes rebellious members of the group will instead MIRROR these wants.
They do the opposite to try to make themselves seem unique or special.
If one friend buys an Audi the other buys a bike , a Royal Enfield, and talks up the rumbling sound of the engine and how much they love off-roading on it on weekends.
Despite the attempt to differentiate, they are still a falling into the pattern, with their desire for a new car defined by the pack.
These waves of wanting splash over all of us constantly. It’s almost impossible to remain unaffected by it, even if you know what to look for.
A large scale example of the same pattern can be studied in how the state of Haryana in India is producing sports-persons whereas state of Punjab has become known for its youth being either obsessed with migrating to west or being druggists . And people in Bihar are too much in love with government job whereas in Bengal, you find an artist in every family ! Everyone is doing something because someone in neighborhood is doing that.
This raises a bigger question ! The question about ourselves !
‘Who are we ? ‘
Do we have any real purpose of our own ? Or we’re just hollow, purposeless creatures ? Having a vacuum inside that is being filled constantly by what we see ! Our so-called purpose is constantly being shaped by our neighborhood , our friends, our colleagues and our relatives !
The key is to determine your true, intrinsic THICK desires and separate them from your false, extrinsic THIN desires – the thin desires that have been provoked by your colleagues, by your friends and nearby relatives.
An example: A thin desire is extrinsic (coming from others): You wanting to buy an expensive watch because your friend showed you theirs, even though you’ve never had any interest in watches or fashion.
A thick desire is intrinsic (coming from within): You love to go on long-drives on weekends and do it because you enjoy it. You’d do it even if you could never tell anyone about it on social media. You do it for yourself.
So, the question is: WHO is making you want the things you want?
And more importantly: Do you ACTUALLY want these things?
Are they thin or thick desires?
Surround yourself with the wrong models you will be bound to artificial, unfulfilling goals. Here’s an example:
There’s a French chef named Sebastian Bras. Like any high level chef, his goal was to reach the pinnacle of cooking and be awarded a Michelin star. He got the star. But the victory was hollow. Instead of enjoying it, now he just wanted a second star.
And once he got the second one, he just feared losing it. On top of that, he had to follow ridiculously strict rules about what it meant to be “in the club” and maintain the star.
He felt stifled by Michelin’s rules, and he realized he had been competing for something he didn’t want just because all his peers modelled it as important. He ended up doing something pretty bolder: he told Michelin to remove him from the guide and revoke his star—he opted out.
So, how can you avoid Sebastian’s fate of ending up spending your life pursuing something that doesn’t actually make you happy?
One way to think about it is the old adage: “You are the sum of your five best friends”
Choose carefully, and don’t spend time with people whose lives/desires don’t line up with your intrinsic desires.
There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the gist. Read the book, it’s great: